Building Bridges Between Community Colleges and UniversitiesEloy Ortiz Oakley | Superintendent-President, Long Beach Community College District
Every year the cost of a college education climbs higher, much faster than the rate of inflation. The average cost of public universities is nearly five figures a year, and families at private colleges can expect to pay three times the cost of a state school.
Of course, heading directly to a four-year university out of high school isn’t the only route to earning a university degree. Community colleges are an attractive option for many students looking for a more affordability as well as quality preparation for the rigors of a university education.
Maximizing the success of our transfer students demands that two-year colleges and four-year universities nurture and maintain collaborative and effective relationships. And when we extend that collaboration to the K-12 system, we begin the positive step of seeing our institutions as one educational ecosystem focused on student success, instead of three silos focused on institutional success.
Long Beach institutions recognized this need for collaboration and relationship building in 2008, when we came together and launched the Long Beach College Promise. Over the better part of the last decade, Long Beach City College (LBCC), CSU Long Beach (CSULB), the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) and the City of Long Beach have collaborated on a variety of initiatives to improve college preparation, access and completion across our community. The vision has been to create a college-going culture amongst all the communities we serve. This comprehensive program has become a model for the nation and was used by White House education leaders to help shape the America’s College Promise proposal.
The Long Beach College Promise engages students at an early age with college tours in fourth and fifth grades, and a greater focus on college preparation throughout their LBUSD experience. By the time LBCC students are prepared to transfer, the College Promise has strengthened the bridge between LBCC and CSULB. The City of Long Beach has worked to increase internships in the region, so our students and graduates can supplement their educations with real-world work experience. Each partner in the College Promise fulfills its part to provide incentives, services and support, with a seamless transition for the student.
The program offers such benefits as a tuition-free academic year at LBCC and preferred admission to CSULB. Our partner CSULB offers education and assistance, summer programs, bridge programs and special advising to our students at LBCC.
Thanks to the Long Beach College Promise, more high school graduates are completing foundational coursework at LBCC and advancing to CSULB or other four-year colleges and universities. LBUSD students who attend LBCC and then transfer to CSULB graduate at higher rates than other transfer students entering the university.
Forging relationships between school districts, two-year colleges and four-year universities isn’t easy. It calls for a focused commitment and investment of time to raise the bar of student success.
Strong relationships have to be cultivated at all levels. The institution’s CEOs must create a collaborative spirit that infuses the institutions from the top down. Faculty must collaborate more effectively to build solid transfer pathways. Researchers must freely share data so that student success can be measured across time and across institutions. Each work group must take ownership of their respective roles and goals. Most importantly, each institution commits to taking responsibility—and being held accountable—for the academic success of each child in the greater Long Beach region.
These relationships are critical, but are only the beginning. Measurable outcomes should be defined in a plan, and that plan should be part of a larger promise or agreement. Each group must to be willing to make the outcomes a priority.
Establishing relationships between two-year colleges and four-year universities is a long-term endeavor. Commitment to program goals, regular dialogue and shared accountability are all crucial components the Long Beach College Promise.
It takes time and effort. But it’s a smart investment of resources that benefits students and local communities, because college graduates statistically earn more and contribute more to the economy. Long Beach residents have recognized this, and donated generously to help fund the Long Beach College Promise. Donations to the LBCC Foundation have enabled us to offer a full tuition-free academic year at LBCC to qualified LBUSD graduates. More than 12,000 students have received the scholarship since 2008.
Throughout California and the nation, these types of partnerships will become increasingly critical to help students meet their higher education goals and reach their full potential.